Wood highlights strong spring opener for Nats prospects

February 25th, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez had lauded the organization’s top prospects for maximizing their time so far in their first Major League camp and getting prepared for the Spring Training opener on Saturday.

Workouts are one thing, game action is another. So were they ready when they took the field against the Astros?

The crack of the bat echoing through the night sky at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches answered a resounding, “Yes.”

“Exciting times,” Martinez said. “The future looks bright.”

Outfielder James Wood, ranked as the MLB’s No. 14 overall prospect and the Nationals’ No. 2, set the stage for the Nats' emerging talents by walloping a massive home run on the first pitch he saw in the fifth inning. The 6-foot-6 21-year-old rocketed a solo blast off right-hander Misael Tamarez, Houston’s No. 30 prospect, onto the right field concourse with a smooth stroke.

“I just looked for a pitch I could really handle,” Wood said. “I kind of don’t really try to think too much. I just sort of go up there with that approach and just react to whatever.”

Wood, who knocked 26 homers last season as the Nationals Minor League Hitter of the Year, turned heads around the ballpark.

“I just asked him if his phone was blowing up because that was loud. That was really loud,” said right-hander Jackson Rutledge, the Nats’ No. 13 prospect, who tossed two scoreless frames. “I was looking the other way talking to somebody and I heard it. Everybody was like, ‘Whoa!’ That was impressive.”

Outfielder Robert Hassell III had a front row seat to watch Wood’s homer from the on-deck circle.

“I told him I had the perfect view,” said Hassell, the Nationals’ No. 8 prospect. “But who else? That guy’s going to deliver; I’ve seen it myself in Double-A. You can’t throw him a first pitch down the middle.”

After Wood crossed home plate, Hassell stepped into the batter’s box and continued the momentum. Hassell also made contact on the first pitch, sending it to left field as he raced around the bases for a triple.

In the ninth, Hassell also smacked a deep single into left-center. Martinez noted the results of Hassell focusing on staying on top of the baseball in camp. The 22-year-old also is no longer hampered by a broken right hamate injury sustained in the 2022 Arizona Fall League.

“I’m definitely clear of it now,” Hassell said. “... It was hurting me for a while. [I] didn’t realize that really until coming in this year with how good I felt.”

Following that offensive spark, 2023 No. 2 overall Draft pick Dylan Crews (MLB No. 7, Nationals’ No. 1) made a noteworthy sliding grab in center field to rob Jesus Bastidas with a well-timed defensive play. Martinez wants to get the outfield trio of Crews, Hassell and Wood playing time together as well as with center fielder Victor Robles and right fielder Lane Thomas.

“I watch [Crews], and he’s got everything he needs,” Martinez said. “He’s very quick, he’s quick in the outfield. He throws the ball really well. He’s going to hit, he’s going to drive the ball. It’s good to see him out there and get his first Major League at-bat.”

The newest prospect to the organization, Rule 5 Draft pick Nasim Nuñez (No. 23) was kept busy at shortstop. He made impressive plays on defense and contributed at the plate by slicing a bases-loaded, RBI single into left field in the eighth.

“He can field,” Martinez said. “We knew that his glove is good. Another guy that [hitting coach] Darnell [Coles] is working really hard on his hitting, and it was nice to see him come through and stay on the ball, hit the ball the other way like that.”

Game one of Grapefruit League action offered a glimpse of the Nationals’ plans for the next chapter. As the young core of prospects continue to develop together, expect to see more potential sneak peeks of the future in camp.

“This is going to be a fun Spring Training,” Martinez said.